Asia rising: Boeing SC's 1st delivery fits trend

An Air India flight crew on a new 787 prepares to depart from Charleston International Airport on Tuesday as a US Airways flight touches down. Asian airlines are projected to buy 4,740 more planes than North American carriers over the next 20 years, according to Boeing projections.

Boeing South Carolina's first delivery of a locally made 787 Dreamliner to Air India expected sometime this week is not only a milestone for the plane-maker and the Charleston region. It's also the latest manifestation of a major trend in 21st-century aviation: the ascent of Asia as the biggest market for commercial aircraft.

Just as the population booms in that region, so will air travel.

About 30 percent to 35 percent of all flights go through Asia now, but in 20 years, half of the world's air traffic will touch down there, said Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing at Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

“Clearly, the center of the marketplace will be the Asia-Pacific region,” Tinseth said in July, speaking to The Post and Courier from the Farnborough International Airshow near London.

That means Asian airlines will buy the most of almost every kind of airplane Boeing and its competition make, even as nations such as China expand their high-speed rail networks simultaneously.

Putting the projected buying spree in perspective, Tinseth said there are about 7,000 airplanes operating in the United States, which is home to 311 million people. China, like India, has four times the population of the U.S. but only about 1,600 airplanes.

“The fact is this is a market with great, great potential,” he said.

As for Boeing South Carolina's first customer, Tinseth said, “it's fair to say that India's grown into one of the largest aviation markets in the world.”

The expansion of the middle class in that nation will only extend that trend, he said.

“Those people will fly,” Tinseth said. “Not just domestically but long range as well. And that's where the Dreamliner comes in.”

The lightweight 787, whose main selling points include its fuel savings and passenger comforts, has been called a “hub-buster” because it enables direct flights between distant global city pairs.

The first run of Dreamliners were delivered to two Asian carriers starting last fall, The buyers were Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, both based in Japan.

Tinseth said it's “just been part of the production plan” that South Carolina's first 787s will go to another strategic Asian travel market.

“I think India has less to do with Charleston's plant than the market for the 787,” he said.

Boeing already has delivered two Dreamliners to Air India from its North Charleston campus, but those jets were assembled by workers in Everett, Wash.

Jack Jones, Boeing South Carolina's vice president and general manager, said last week that the next one to take off is the first Dreamliner to be put together in the Lowcountry.

He did not say what day the handover will take place. That is Air India's decision.

The airplane, known internally as LN 46, made its public debut in late April, when Jones led Boeing employees in chanting, “We make jets.”

Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.